World News

02.16.13

Are You Living in an Asteroid Danger Zone?

Friday’s meteor explosion in Russia hurt hundreds of people and caused severe damage. Here’s why the U.S. may be next.

This morning’s destructive meteorite shower in Siberia wasn’t entirely unexpected, at least for a select group of researchers. According to experts at University of Southampton, Russia is among the countries most likely to suffer infrastructure damage and casualties as a result of fiery space objects.

But other countries are statistically more vulnerable to even greater destruction—including the U.S.

Using software that measures the impact of relatively small asteroids (no more than 3,280 feet in diameter), researchers were able to estimate which countries are mostly likely to suffer the most severe damage should these rocks collide with Earth. In a 2009 study, Nicholas Bailey ranked Russia at the second most likely spot for damage to buildings and land. But, he concluded, “China faces the greatest risk to its population, while the USA’s infrastructure is most at risk.”

A similar study published in 2007, using the same technology, listed the countries for both damage to population and land as follows (in no particular order):

• United States
• China
• India
• Japan
• Philippines
• Italy
• Britain
• Brazil
• Nigeria
• Indonesia

And these aren’t small concerns. “The threat of the Earth being hit by an asteroid is increasingly being accepted as the single greatest natural disaster hazard faced by humanity,” wrote Bailey.

Though most meteoroids are tiny and invisible to the naked eye, burning up in Earth’s atmosphere before reaching the ground, experts closely monitor larger asteroids. Researchers from NASA believe there are some 47,000 “potentially hazardous” asteroids—at least 330 feet wide—within 500 million miles of Earth. In other words, they are close enough to potentially hit Earth and big enough to make it through the atmosphere.

“The threat of the Earth being hit by an asteroid is increasingly being accepted as the single greatest natural disaster hazard faced by humanity.”
130215-Nemtsova-Russian-Meteor-tease
A meteor streaked across the sky of Russia’s Ural Mountains on Friday morning, causing sharp explosions and reportedly injuring around 100 people, including many hurt by broken glass. A dashboard camera, on a highway from Kostanai, Kazakhstan, to Chelyabinsk region, Russia, provided by Nasha Gazeta newspaper captures one of the contrails, on Friday, Feb. 15, 2013. (Nasha Gazeta via AP)

Ironically, asteroid 2012 DA14 flew past the Earth this afternoon from 17,150 miles away—the closest distance in decades. According to a NASA statement, there’s no chance it will impact Earth.

“The trajectory of the Russia meteor was significantly different than the trajectory of the asteroid 2012 DA14, making it a completely unrelated object.”

Crisis averted, this time at least.